March 7 saw the demands coming from various groups of protesters grow longer and the tent village near Parliament in Sofia grow a little bigger. Some jottings from the The Sofia Globe’s notebook:
• A few dozen protesters from the “Social Solidarity National Initiative” gathered outside the National Assembly, shouting insults and voicing various demands, including increases in pensions, a 25 per cent reduction in electricity prices and reductions of up to 30 per cent in spending on the Presidency, Parliament and the state administration. Protesters said that they planned to “blockade” Parliament on March 9. Roma people also were outside Parliament, with representatives of the Amalipe Centre for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance pressing demands including the introduction of the Roma language as a compulsory subject, along with Roma dances, for Roma school pupils. The Roma group have associated themselves with the tent village in the park near Parliament, initially set up by Yanaki Ganchev’s group of protesters. Young Roma people from Knezha and Etropole brought school diplomats to show that their community has development potential.
• United States ambassador Marcie Ries, speaking to journalists on March 7, expressed sympathy with the financial and economic difficulties about which people were protesting. She also expressed sympathy for Plamen Goranov, the protester who died a few days ago after setting himself on fire outside Varna municipality and who has become a symbol of the nationwide protests; Ries also expressed condolences to his family and friends. Ries said that a number of political and economic issues had been raised not only by the demonstrators but also by the media and said that discussions were good and intrinsic to democracy and the democratic process.
With elections to be held, there would be further opportunities to discuss these problems and hear from politicians what they think about these issues and how to solve them, Ries said. She expressed hope that the next government would take steps on judicial reform and media freedom. “Economic progress and development of the Bulgarian economy is also very important, of course, but all issues – diversification of energy sources, the development of the rule of law and media freedom, together are as important for economic development and progress,” Ries said.
• The National Assembly approved on March 7 the first reading of a bill renouncing an agreement between the governments of Russia, Bulgaria and Greece on co-operation in building and operating the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline. A total of 115 MPs voted in favour, 25 against and there was one abstention. A second and final reading vote is expected on March 8.
• European Commission President Jose Barroso expressed hope that a “stable and fully operational government” can be established as soon as possible following the early elections on May 12 2013, according to a European Commission statement issued after he met President Rossen Plevneliev on March 6. Barroso welcomed Plevneliev’s commitment to respond to the concerns expressed by Bulgarian citizens and to ensure stability in the full respect of the constitutional process and democratic values, the statement said.
After meeting Plevneliev, European Council President Herman van Rompuy said that Brussels was following the situation in Bulgaria very closely. Meanwhile, Plevneliev, responding to speculation in Bulgarian-language media reports, said that Bulgaria’s European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva would not be acting prime minister in the caretaker cabinet to be appointed around March 13, and denied having offered her the post. The caretaker government will set Bulgaria’s new priorities, Plevneliev said. He referred to employment, support for SMEs and EU funds absorption in particular. The EC is ready to help, but Bulgaria must clarify its priorities first, he said.